Flash to the Past

By: Hannah Tetzlaff 

Happy Birthday to you, Ripon College!

On Tuesday, Feb. 9, Ripon College celebrated the 165th anniversary since its founding on Jan. 29, 1851 by David Mapes and Alan Earl Bovay.  The celebration was hosted by Amy Gerretsen and the Alumni Office in the Great Hall.

“Attendance this year was on par with that of past years,” says User Services Librarian and Archivist Andrew Prellwitz.   “As someone who thinks honoring our heritage and traditions is important as well as honoring community service, I, of course, wish that the room would be standing room only.”  

However, when interviewing a handful of Ripon College students around campus, there seemed to be a lack of understanding on how the College was founded and a voracious desire to learn the history behind it.

“I feel like if I’d known what is was it would be more relevant to me, but I didn’t get a chance to see what they did at the Great Hall so I don’t really know what it’s all about,” says Freshmen Lizzie Rigden.

Rigden suggested that it would be helpful if the college sent out an e-mail informing the student body on what Founder’s Day is about and the history behind because it is important to know where the college came from.

Other students as well made various suggestions on how the college could better inform the students about Founder’s Day and help make it more relevant to them.

“I feel that maybe if there was a way it was incorporated into class or a way that students are worked into having to acknowledge it rather than just having them go to the Great hall; students aren’t always going to be encouraged to go to the Great Hall,” suggests Sophmore Josh Schubring.

“I would actually like to hear the story of [the College’s] founding; that would be cool,” declared Sophomore DeLou Wilson. “Maybe actually tell us where the charter is because I don’t know where that hangs.[Founder’s Day is]a really historic day for Ripon; I just kind of wish we made a bigger thing about it like do a high school pep-rally or something.”

In answer to their wishes, this young journalist went back into the archives to understand how it first began.

According to Robert Ashley and George Miller’s Ripon College: A History, Ship Captain David Mapes arrived in the Ripon area in 1845 after his steamboat business sank with his ship on a reef in the East River in New York.  His purpose was to establish a town and he found a promising site east of Ceresco, a socialist commune established by Warren Chase.  While Mapes was busy developing Ripon and thinking about creating a college, Bovay came West in hopes of joining Chase’s commune.  However, Bovay arrived right when the commune was disbanding and being absorbed into the town of Ripon.  Mapes persuaded Bovay to stay and help develop Ripon.

Ashley and Miller explained that it was on Nov. 23, 1850, that 15 citizens met and decided to form a lyceum—an association that supports lectures and debates that interest the local community—which began the process of creating Ripon College.  The Ripon Lyceum elected nine directors, four of which were Mapes, Bovay, Chase and Horner, to obtain a contract for the construction of a building for education.  

“Then suddenly on January 1, 1851, without any explanation of their action, the directors voted to apply for a charter ‘to found, establish and maintain at Ripon in the County of Fond du Lac, an institution of learning of the highest order, embracing also a department of preparatory instruction,’” wrote Ashley and Miller.  

Since this institution could no longer be described as a lyceum, the directors decided to name the College according to the decree of the highest bidder in an auction, which was William Brockway.  Thus, on Jan. 29, 1851, when the Wisconsin state government granted a charter for the College, it was named Brockway College.  Ashley and Miller conveyed that the name was changed to Ripon College in 1863 after a falling out among William Brockway and his brothers-in-law, which caused the community to feel animosity towards the family.  

Despite the rich history of the founding of Ripon College, Founders’ Day was not established until 1960, 109 years after the College was founded.

“Both then and today, the education that students get at Ripon College changes their lives and our community for the better,” said Prellwitz. “That’s definitely something worth celebrating and is something that will always be relevant.”